I used to joke with parents that if they could make a grocery list, they could change a child’s behavior. The idea behind this is that most behavioral change takes parental attention and consistency. The truth is that we are constantly shaping our child’s behaviors every day. And, one might say, they are changing ours too! This is a natural process of interaction. The question is really, what are your shaping? Our you modeling positive habits? Do you reward positive behavior? Shifting our attention away from negative behavior (what you don’t want) and refocusing on positive behaviors (what you do want) can be as easy as making a list or creating a chart.
Here are 3 keys to successfully changing a child’s behavior with a behavior chart:
1. Have a clear, achievable goal in mind: If you don’t know where you are going, you won’t get there. Don’t confuse the goal by making it too vague or complex. Focus on a specific behavior you WANT to see happen. Don’t write it in the negative. State what you want to see different. Be age appropriate when focusing on change. A 4 year old can’t do what a 14 year old can do.
2. Make it rewarding: The power of a behavior chart is that a child will get a reward for doing what you want. What motivates your child? What can you realistically afford to do? How long will it take to get the reward? Some children need daily, if not hourly rewards. Break a big reward down into smaller rewards if necessary to keep children motivated. The last thing you want is a defiant child who refuses to do a chart because it is too difficult or they feel like they will fail and so they don’t even try. Also, remember the best reward is you! Your smile, hug and words of praise should always be given regardless of any other physical reward.
3. Be open to change: If the chart is not working, make changes. It is just a parenting tool, not a magical wand. Use the success or lack of it as feedback on how to create the chart. Use family meetings and intimate discussions about what is working for the child. Continue to celebrate any small success or effort. You might find that using a chart changes your parenting time and energy as well. That is good modeling and parenting improvement.